The Empty Middle Seat: A Passenger’s Dream Come True
15 Oct 2015

It’s no secret that airlines are working harder to totally fill aircrafts than ever before. Empty seats are wasted dollars to the airline; to the passenger, an empty seat in their row is like striking gold. Adrienne Carpenter of the New York Times sheds some light on her techniques to landing a spot next to the coveted empty middle seat.

Carpenter’s search for airline seats involves both strategy and luck. Before even purchasing a ticket, do some research. For trips that involve connections and layovers, try to find the connecting location with the most carriers and departure times. More options mean more seats. If more seats are available, there is a greater chance that your flight will not be full.

Purchasing a ticket for a flight at an odd hour, think in the middle of the day, or very late at night, will decrease the chances of a full flight. These times tend to be the cheapest tickets, as well.

Seat maps are useful tools in determining your odds of ending up next to an empty seat. SeatGuru is a site ran by Trip Advisor that offers plane configurations for almost every airplane and most airlines. Carpenter recommends flying on aircrafts that have nine seats to a row, opposed to planes with eight seats to a row. The nine-seat rows have three middle seats, which are the most unappealing to passengers, and are therefore the most likely to be left unreserved. On international flights, seats in the middle sections are most likely to be left unreserved because they are more cramped, and surrounded by more seats, than the middle seats in both the left and right side sections.

Once you have purchased your seat, a lot can change before you board the plane. Most airlines wait until a week before the flight to unblock certain seats and allow elite and frequent fliers to upgrade their seats. Twenty-four hours prior to take off, when passengers start checking in, is when the most movement in seating occurs.

Changes to reserve seating are made right up until boarding time. Some passengers switch to earlier flights, others may be switched onto your flight. That empty seat next to yours is up for grabs until the cabin doors close. Once the wheels are up, you may begin celebrating your good traveling fortune.

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